June 04, 2012, 3:24 PM — Microsoft kicked off E3 today with its annual Press Conference. With no new hardware to talk about (they'd said in advance that they wouldn't be talking about Xbox 720) I was wondering what they'd do to keep excitement levels high.
It turns out that with one exception, Microsoft seems to have rolled back the clock a few years. Today's event felt targeted almost exclusively to the 16-25 male demographic, with established shooter franchises (Halo 4, Splinter Cell, Gears of War, Call of Duty) and sports titles (Madden and FIFA) getting the majority of screen time.
I counted exactly one family-friendly game; a Kinect enabled game called Wreckateer that had you flinging rocks at castles to knock them down. Think of it like a first person Angry Birds powered by Kinect hand-gestures.
Kinect was actually downplayed in terms of gaming. The titles that were announcing Kinect enabled features all focused on voice commands. Fable: The Journey, a Kinect controlled game first teased last year, was shown in trailer form but not being played. There was a distinct lack of hand-waving and certainly no little girl playing with her virtual cat "Skittles."
Overall from a gaming point of view I found the conference pretty meh, but I'm not a shooter fan. If you enjoy shooters then, well, you're going to have a good year of gaming.
They did also show a new clip from the new Tomb Raider game which continues to look intense. In this game a young Lara is continually getting the crap knocked out of her by enemies and environment but keeps bouncing back for more. In some ways this game reminds me of the Uncharted series a little bit, only Lara's on-going injuries leave marks. It'll be interesting to see public reaction to this game; culturally I just don't think we're used to seeing a female protagonist put through such hell and showing the results. At least not in games.
Anyway, what was really interesting aside from the gaming parts of the conference was the announcement of Microsoft Smartglass, a way of connecting your Xbox 360 to your smart device so that the two systems can share data back and forth. In a lot of ways Microsoft just stole Nintendo's thunder, because in theory, Smartglass lets you do on your existing tablet or smart phone a lot of the things Nintendo is promising to bring to the Wii U Gamepad.
Microsoft says Smartglass will work on iOS, Android and Windows 8. One game-play example of the technology at work showed someone 'drawing' a Madden play on their tablet and then sending it into the game on their TV. For video, a nifty example was watching A Game of Thrones on the Xbox 360 via HBO Go and seeing an interactive map of where the action on-screen was taking place, on your tablet. Of course this was probably a unique example since HBO offers an 'enhanced' Game of Thrones experience on the HBO iPad app already.